By now I’m sure you all have your own preferred set of insults for the infamous quarantine-breakers who have managed to transform Phnom Penh from this…
And just in time for the weekend, too.
Yeah, thanks a lot for that, you absolute [insert expletive here].
Okay, it’s not *actually* a lockdown – at least, not yet. But take it from someone who experienced a very real lockdown (the kind where you couldn’t see any friends or family for months on end and could only leave the house for an hour a day for exercise)… you really, really don’t want that to happen here. Trust me. Don’t take the risk.
So in all our best interests, this week we’ll be following government advice and urging you avoid busy bars, big gatherings (if they haven’t been cancelled already) and any other outings likely to lead to your mugshot on the front page of the Khmer Times, next to a headline with three spelling mistakes in it calling for your imminent execution.
Instead of the usual roundup, here’s our Covid-friendly guide to getting your Phnom Penh culture fix this weekend. So get into your PJs, order in a ton of food (and beer) from your delivery app of choice and make the most of it.
For this week’s Cine-Saturday screening, Bophana Centre will stream the classic documentary Inside the Khmer Rouge through its Facebook page (5pm, Saturday 27th).
BlaBla Language Exchange is moving its Sunday meet-up online (Sunday from 6pm – register here).
Or if you’d like to learn more about Buddhist teaching, the Suttavada Foundation hosts a free online talk on Sunday at 6pm.
Curl Up With a (Cambodian) Book
It’s true that the Kingdom itself lacks the thriving literary scene of its nearest neighbours, but there are, of course, exceptions.
Santel Phin’s striking collection of short stories and poems, Cambodia in My Dream, is available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle edition.
You can pick up Luong Ung’s acclaimed trilogy of memoirs, First They Killed My Father, Lucky Child and Lulu in the Sky pretty much anywhere.
Cambodian-American Sambath Meas’ historical thriller The Governor’s Daughter (set in French colonial-era Phnom Penh) and non-fiction The Immortal Seeds (a deeply-researched biography of her family’s fate under the Khmer Rouge) are harder to find, but they’re both available in Amazon Kindle editions, too.
The King’s Last Song, by Canadian author Geoff Ryman, is another historical novel set in Cambodia that’s very much worth a read – it offers a fascinating portrayal of the Angkor period, intertwined with modern legacies of the Khmer Rouge – and there tend to be copies kicking around at bookshops in Phnom Penh.
Right now, you can also get your hands on a hardback edition of Monika Tep’s memoir, Life Between Two Worlds. Tracing an often painful journey from growing up in poverty in Cambodia to launching a successful career as a model and spa owner in Beverly Hills, Monika’s story is harrowing, eye-opening, but ultimately inspiring. She’s back in Phnom Penh right now, so you can request an English-language copy through her Facebook page before it hits local bookshops in March (the Khmer version will be out in the coming months).
If you widen your net to the Khmer diaspora, there are some very exciting Cambodian-American writers to watch right now. A few to get you started are prose author Angela So and poets Monika Sok and Sokunthary Svay. Tragically, rising star Anthony Veasna So died in 2020, aged just 28, but a book of his short stories will still be published this year. In the meantime, here’s a taster: Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts, featured in The New Yorker (it’s excellent).
Netflix & Chill
What Cambodia-related films and shows are actually available on Netflix Cambodia? More than you might expect, actually.
If you’ve been putting off watching First They Killed My Father all this time because you know it’s going to make you cry, now’s a good time. You probably will cry, but it’s worth it.
If you’d prefer something a little more frivolous, there’s Cambodian martial arts blockbuster Jailbreak.
… Or a bunch of well-meaning but poorly-informed medical students from Japan throw themselves into philanthropy in cheesy 2011 film We Can’t Change the World But We Wanna Build a School in Cambodia.
From just across the border, there’s Furie, an extremely watchable Vietnamese martial arts film about a debt collector who returns to the Saigon underworld of her past when her daughter is kidnapped.
Alternatively, for a supernatural revenge-fantasy fix with a Cambodian connection, try the Thai horror film P, in which a sweet Khmer girl obliged to take up work in a seedy strip club to support her grandmother uses the dark arts to unleash hell on those that cross her – and becomes consumed by it.
Phnom Penh also makes an appearance in chef David Chang’s Breakfast Lunch & Dinner and (in a less positive light), in Dark Tourist. Keep an eye out for What’s On Phnom Penh contributor Frazer McRobert, who is also lurking in that episode.
Do a Staycation
If you’re going to hole yourself up for the weekend, you might as well do it somewhere luxurious. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but deals on Phnom Penh hotels are absolutely insane right now.
Obviously, the best deals are on longer-term stays (we’re talking $400-$700 for a month in a 4-star resort, often including breakfast), but even if you just want to take a mini-break, there are plenty of offers on fancy places at around $30-$50 per night. Who cares if you can’t go out if you’re hanging out in a cabana by a pool with a margarita in your hand?!
We can get through this, Penh pals! Stay safe and we’ll see you on the other side